MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia legislative leaders, business leaders, and heads of academia are ready to explore more ways to promote business growth across the state.

Ahead of the start of the 2024 Legislative Session, representatives from the West Virginia State Senate, House of Delegates, and West Virginia University met in Charleston for the West Virginia Press Association Legislative Lookahead. Senate President Craig Blair, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, and WVU President Gordon Gee were among those on hand for the multi-person panel. Some of the discussions were focused on economic development and areas where legislators can help move small businesses in the right direction, whether it’s an expansion of already-implemented state programs or continuing long-time collaborations.

“We want to make sure that our state, our policies, our regulations, our legislatures are all growing in the same direction,” said WVU Office of Student and Faculty Innovation Executive Director Erienne Olesh, who spoke with state leaders on Friday. “To make sure that we not only support that workforce, but we do everything that we can to help support and keep growth in that in the future,” she said.

A focus on improving avenues for small businesses to grow and develop was one of the areas Olesh discussed as part of the Legislative Lookahead. This is based on numbers showing that nearly ninety-eight percent of all businesses in West Virginia consist of small businesses or start-up companies, many of which need large-scale capital to see any form of expansion. With a state-supported grant fund already established that offers up to $150,000 for businesses to grow either through employment or development, Olesh hopes to see technological advancements included in those offerings from the state.

“Looking at ways we can help small businesses outside of just funding, getting them technical assistance, getting them support with accounting, and legal, and things like H.R. solidifying those resources,” Olesh said.

Olesh also emphasized the need for continued collaboration with state leaders and state institutions like WVU. This is based on the development of several technological and economic innovations, such as advancements related to STEM, that have placed the university among the “Innovation and Economic Prosperity” universities, according to the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. To take advantage of WVU’s efforts, Olesh hopes to see collaborations to expand with the state where avenues to make operations easier for small businesses can continue to grow.

“Universities are incredibly important in creating those ideas, but we really need to provide that link there for how you get those great ideas into the marketplace,” said Olesh.

For the Mountain State as a whole, several major corporate investments and the rise of small businesses setting up shop have positively changed the economic development landscape heading into 2024. This includes the breaking ground of the Nucor Steel plant in Mason County, announcements from Form Energy and LG that they’ll open up businesses in the Mountain State (LG also announced the opening of offices in Morgantown), as well as the further development of businesses like Mountaintop Beverage as part of developments like Harmony Grove in Monongalia County. As the 2024 Legislative Session is set to begin on January 10, Olesh hopes lawmakers will use the resources at their disposal to keep the positive momentum going.

“We’re not up-and-coming, we’re not trying to play catch-up anymore,” said Olesh. “We’re ready to bring in more industry and more business, and there are so many assets that can really be leveraged to help companies grow,” she said.